What I’m going to write is a rare admission, even among Russian Literature and, more generally, Classics enthusiasts: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy is one of my most beloved books.

“Everything I know, I know because of love.”

“All we can know is that we know nothing. And that’s the height of human wisdom.”

People recoil from this masterpiece and, while I don’t understand, I cannot blame them since:
1) it’s a big book, what we in Italy refer to as prosciuttone (ham) – 560,000 words, approximately;
If that’s what’s stopping you from approaching War and Peace, let me tell you that you are simply being lazypants and that’s by no means a good reason for not reading such a good book;
2) it  has (supposedly) one of the worst endings in the whole of Literature;
I disagree since I thought it to be fitting and, more importantly, relevant;
3) it’s sprinkled awful long chapters on the philosophy of history and the assertion that “great men” are as important to it as a donkey’s ass;
I admit, those were some of the most tedious moments of my life, but if you just take a minute to ponder what it’s before your eyes you will also find it very instructive. I sure did, more than any History lesson I took, so much so that when I had a test on the subject my senior year of highschool I managed to get an A by referring to War and Peace throughout.

You’re still put off by it?
Your loss, people: it might not be the perfect book with the perfect story, but it’s magnificent!

If you are interested in it, but don’t necessarily want to read it, here are 10 things you need to know about it.

Also, a tip regarding Classics: listening to audiobooks helps!

“There will be today, there will be tomorrow, there will be always, and there was yesterday, and there was the day before…”

Tolstoy’s epic masterpiece intertwines the lives of private and public individuals during the time of the Napoleonic wars and the French invasion of Russia. The fortunes of the Rostovs and the Bolkonskys, of Pierre, Natasha, and Andrei, are intimately connected with the national history that is played out in parallel with their lives. Balls and soirees alternate with councils of war and the machinations of statesmen and generals, scenes of violent battles with everyday human passions in a work whose extraordinary imaginative power has never been surpassed.

The prodigious cast of characters, seem to act and move as if connected by threads of destiny as the novel relentlessly questions ideas of free will, fate, and providence. Yet Tolstoy’s portrayal of marital relations and scenes of domesticity is as truthful and poignant as the grand themes that underlie them.

“You say: I am not free. But I have raised and lowered my arm. Everyone understands that this illogical answer is an irrefutable proof of freedom.”

While the saga of Czarist patricians and the repulse of Napoleon in Russia in 1812 may have intimidated many a reader in the course of time, it certainly has made for a good subject on screen.
Watchers are for sure not as reluctant to appreciate the greatness that is War and Peace, as attested by the major success of 2016’s version.

“When one’s head is gone one doesn’t weep over one’s hair!”
Poster - War and Peace (1956)_20

In fact, a mere 100 years after it’s first movie debut in 1915,  it has yet again made a breathtaking appearance in what I would refer to as one of BBC’s best mini-series to date (here the website with interesting articles – among them the quiz How Well Do You Know War And Peace? – and descriptions on the coming to).
Revisited in many ways and given an alternate ending, this latest War and Peace might not be my personal favourite – that award goes to the epic American-Italian version starring Henry Fonda and Audrey Hepburn in 1956, also I can’t forget about Anthony Hopkins as Pierre in the 70s version – and it certainly isn’t the most faithful to the book, but it is the most spectacular one, what with the stunning cinematography – beautiful close-ups of couples dancing, to mention one – the incredible costumes, and the wonderful scenery.

No, no wonder at all that I find myself liking it despite me being a stickler when it comes to plot-faithfulness.

Yes, it’s different but it’s doubtlessly worthy of the literary masterpiece.

“Because of the self-confidence with which he had spoken, no one could tell whether what he said was very clever or very stupid.”e8835faafdfa9fcba35a1766700f5793“What is the cause of historical events? Power. What is power? Power is the sum total of wills transferred to one person. On what condition are the willso fo the masses transferred to one person? On condition that the person express the will of the whole people. That is, power is power. That is, power is a word the meaning of which we do not understand. ”

Advertisements